The National Bureau of Economic Research has released a new paper comparing learning by two groups of students at Northwestern University— those taking classes with tenured or tenure-track professors, and those taking classes from non-tenure-line faculty. As the abstract put it: "We find consistent evidence that students learn relatively more from non-tenure line professors in their introductory courses. These differences are present across a wide variety of subject areas, and are particularly pronounced for Northwestern's average students and less-qualified students."
One of the authors of the paper is the president of Northwestern, Morton Schapiro.
The paper says:
There are many aspects relating to changes in the tenure status of faculty – from the impact on research productivity to the protection of academic freedom. But certainly learning outcomes are an important consideration in evaluating whether the observed trend away from tenure track/tenured towards non-tenure line faculty is good or bad. Our results provide evidence that the rise of full-time designated teachers at U.S. colleges and universities may be less of a cause for alarm than some people think, and indeed, may actually be educationally beneficial.
Fascinating stuff. The paper doesn't speculate about the causes of the disparity in teaching performance, but it is possible to imagine some possibilities, from the tenure-track faculty being distracted by research obligations to the tenured faculty having little incentive to teach well.
Naomi Schaefer Riley, call your office.